One of the pertinent issues arising in the 2013 elections is that of “horse trading” – first raised by the incumbent party, Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT).
The position of the party has been that candidates should stick to their original parties, irrespective of the election win or loss. DPT pointed out it would be unethical for candidates to change parties as it would mean subscribing to different ideologies.
This, DPT says, is also equivalent to forming informal coalition governments, and will lead to instability.
The other political parties, even before the primary round of elections, have refuted this and have instead said that this is an attempt by DPT to ensure that the challenger party, after the primary round, does not have enough strong candidates.
All eyes and ears are following the moves made by Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) and its candidates. DNT failed to make the primary round after securing around 17 percent of the votes. And those votes have the potential to create the winning swing for either PDP or DPT in the general round of elections. As of now some DNT candidates including the President and Vice President have opted for PDP.
There are already criticisms from mainly DPT supporters calling for DNT candidates to stick to their own party and to not engage in “horse trading”.
However, despite the denials from DPT, the prominent members from DNT say that they have been approached by both parties to join them.
Such conflicting statements and even actions are sure to confuse the electorate.
First of all, ordinary citizens must understand that the term “horse trading” is inappropriate and incorrect in the context of the current situation happening within the three parties.
Political horse trading is a term normally applied in a multi-party democracy, when after elections or before a crucial vote in Parliament, the elected MPs who may belong to independent parties or the other parties, can be bought for money and other favors.
This is generally considered as unethical as a MP who has been voted into Parliament represent a certain ideology and promises made to voters. The MP compromises his/her party ideology for personal gains when he or she is being traded.
However, the selection of candidates or changing of candidates before a general election is not and cannot be called “horse trading” as none of the candidates have been nominated to the Parliament as yet.
Bhutanese democracy, for all intent and purpose, is a two party system as only one of the two parties can form the government. Our Constitutional and Electoral Laws already provide enough safeguards against the actual horse trading. For example, MPs cannot switch party loyalties after being elected to Parliament or stand to be disqualified. The only theoretical “horse trading” that can take place in Bhutan’s case is- if a business house or individual bribes the elected MPs to vote on certain bills in a certain way.
DNT or any other party candidates opting to join another party before the general election is legal as per the Electoral Laws of Bhutan.
In these matters, more than ethical and legal justifications, the most important issue is of the public interest. For democratic Bhutan, it’s ultimately in the interest of voters to get the best possible and strongest candidates to choose from- to either form a strong government or a strong opposition party.
This can only be possible, if after the primary round of elections, the strong candidates who can serve the people but belong to the losing parties, are allowed to join a party that makes it through.
Democracy’s aim is to get the best people to serve the nation and the people, and not just serve political parties.
There is also a great deal of double standards in DPT’s stance, which says the changing of candidates before the general elections is unethical or that it can lead to the formation of coalition governments.
The DPT, itself is the result of the alliance of the most influential members and candidates of three unregistered parties in 2008, which are Bhutan People’s United Party (BPUP), All People’s Party (APP), and Bhutan National Party (BNP) – all of whom had united under the leadership of the DPT president and the prominent ministers from the pre-democracy days.
In the past five years, such alliances have not created any noticeable instability or even a coalition government; on the contrary, the party candidates have been criticized for not disagreeing enough within their own party.
More than switching of party candidates, it is important for all parties to remember that the real danger for democracy comes from selecting candidates who have been associated with criminal activities, corruption, and other undesirable activities.
We are extremely sensitive to the difference between literacy and ideology. It is our belief that the first helps to thwart intolerance, challenge dogma, and reinforce our common humanity. The second does the opposite.”